The perils of distance from European design brands and a more conservative market has buoyed Australian designers to find their entrepreneurial voice, shifting the traditional business blueprint for running a design studio locally. Ten years ago it was all about the international commission. Today, it is about finding that sweet spot between backing their own ideas and managing production, and collaborating with design brands locally and overseas.
In Sydney’s inner-city suburb of Camperdown, designer Tom Fereday divides his time between his own production and commissions for furniture brands including local brand SP01 Design. It is a 20/80 juggle that for Tom, is all about the design process and carefully chosen, bespoke projects. “I always wanted to design with different brands so collaboration is really the bread and butter of my work", remarks Tom in the midst of preparing for the annual Milan Furniture Fair where he will be launching new products with SP01 Design. "It also allows me to take on projects that I might not be able to do by myself, and to achieve something more sophisticated. Before working on the SP01 outdoor collection, I had never explored wire bending techniques and that collaboration also gave me the opportunity to design my first outdoor furniture range."
The cross-cultural exchange between designers and makers is also a way to infuse new techniques, know-how and expertise within the work. During the development of the SP01 outdoor collection, Tom developed new skills working with the Italian studio Metrica and manufacturers from Italy’s pool of the best. "It was a truly collaborative effort between me, SP01 and the manufacturer to achieve that collection and it was also a really good challenge", Tom explains. "Everything is on show, every weld and every detail, and it took us nearly 2 years to resolve the production because they are not easy products to manufacture. There is something very timeless about that depth of process and if you can make a project with that integrity, it will last."
For Melbourne-based designer Helen Kontouris who opened her studio in 2001, the collection began with the La La Lamp that was picked up by an Italian lighting brand and made in Italy (it still is). Now more than 80% of the studio's designs across lighting, objects and furniture are produced with local manufacturers in Melbourne. "For me, the reason I switched is about freedom and feeling a certain level of confidence behind our products,” Helen explains. “We have worked very hard to stay on that path because there are small manufacturers here who can do amazing things.”
Launched under the Helen Kontouris Design brand 5 years ago, one of the studio's most popular designs is the Panier indoor and outdoor stool that took shape after a trip to Indonesia. “Every time we go away we spend time understanding the local culture", recalls Helen. "We visited a lot of the basketweaving regions and saw how the pieces were made. I particularly loved the textures and the different techniques.”
Beginning with a light in mind, Helen became fascinated with the idea of transforming the texture of the basket weave onto a polymer product. ”At that time no one had been applying textural techniques to polymers”, enthuses Helen. "It was challenging in terms of the computer files and we actually used the Italian furniture brand Serralunga’s toolmakers to produce the tooling we needed. From beginning to end it took a year and a half.”
The final design is softly textured in a subtle palette of colours – the grey is colour matched to raw concrete, the green to a leaf. "I know a colour psychologist and he is a beautiful soul", explains Helen. "He has said that any colour can work in combination, the whole idea is that Panier can blend into its surroundings."
Helen Kontouris Design and SP01 Design were part of the Sydney Design festival’s Gather exhibition supported by Space Furniture. SP01 will be on show at Milan Design Week from 17–22 April – open daily at Archiproducts Milano, Via Tortona 31, Milan, and with Tom Fereday at Local Milan No. 3, an exhibition featuring 26 Australian designers located in district 5 Vie, Milan.
Panier by Helen Kontouris Design and SP01 are available exclusively from Space Furniture – Australia.